Normally a lone hunter, Mick Garvey enjoys a day over decoys with a kindred spirit

Following up on last month’s day out with Airgun World reader, Steve, and the arrival of young pheasants on my permission, I once again took up the offer from Steve to join him on his land for a day, for the pigeons on recently cut wheat and barley. The pheasant poults needed time to adjust after just being delivered, although my movements are always carried out with ultimate regard for the gamebirds being either young or established because it is part of my remit to take care of these birds and their habitat, but I have another area where the squirrels hang out, and this will be getting my attention until the start of the season. In the back of my mind, I realise that the keepers probably cause more disturbance with the regular feeding and watering visits, compared to my stealthy, highly concealed silent approach, and I have been made aware of many a heated debate regarding this and discussed it with quite a few fellow shooters. We are the unpaid extra eyes and ears in the woods, keeping ourselves unnoticed but alert to any unwanted intrusions from lost walkers, and even worse, the poachers taking what’s not theirs and what others have put so much time and effort into ... phew! With that off my chest, it’s back to today’s events.

Busy times

I had been keeping myself busy on my own fresh-cut rape-seed, wheat and barley fields and with my new Enforcer decoys I had enjoyed some decent days, with bags in the 40s, 30s, and a couple of 20s, which with an air rifle is not bad at all, especially when the woodies and ferals aren’t feeding too confidently. As airgunners, we don’t have the same approach as shotgunners. We have to get the pigeons on the ground and down long enough to get a shot off, and I find three seconds is about all you’ll get if they aren’t on the feed confidently. Shotguns have a much more leisurely method of attack, sending a full load of lead to intercept the pigeons that are coming into the pattern, and before the shotty boys and girls get upset with me, I appreciate it’s a skill and something I haven’t practised enough, but I firmly believe our job is more of an exact science. We use a single pellet into a definitive kill spot, either the head or between the shoulders, and bring the birds to our pattern in a confident manner, long enough to get the shot.

My best-ever day saw me take 91 and at the end of it I felt traumatised, fatigued, covered in blood, sweat and almost tears, and recent results had shown me that the Enforcer decoys worked, and worked well, so Stevie’s pigeons were about to get hit hard.

Two-pronged attack

We met up at my host’s home again, but this time we had breakfast at Steve’s favourite and local, lay-by greasy spoon, although it was anything but greasy. I settled for a bacon and egg sandwich, and Steve opted for the full monty but low-carb plateful. Steve has lost over four stone recently by cutting out carbs, sugar and cereals, and like his shooting, has worked hard at it. Well done, sir!!

The journey to our area was short and as we entered the field, a handful of ferals took flight. Unfortunately, these would not be on the hit list because a local was feeding them, and there was a few ‘lost homers’ among them, so it would be ‘woodies only’ here. We had already decided on a two pronged attack, with me at the far end and Steve near the entrance gate – this should keep them moving between us. There had been plenty of activity here and my host was confident of ‘having a few’, and with my Enforcers waiting to do their part, so was I. A flurry of activity as we approached my spot sent us both wide-eyed as four squirrels made their way over the wall and into the adjacent wood. The wood wasn’t part of Steve’s permission, so there was no chance of a stalk for the skinnies, although he does have the okay to retrieve any dropped pigeons from this woodland. I suggested that this would make a great place for a feeder and he assured me he’ll be on it asap.

First skill

I set up using my army-issue cammo netting, with the Jack Pyke stubble cammo net as a base layer, and from the field I have to say it looked impressive. Utilising my old shooting tripod and overlooking a semi-random horseshoe pattern I was ready and the wait began. Thirty minutes in, nothing had landed and only a couple of the off-limit ferals had buzzed the pattern, but whilst making changes to the decoys I spotted a fox running down the edge of the wall and that got me thinking this could be the reason for the lack of quarry. Whilst pondering my next move, I sensed movement to my right and two of the squirrels had returned to the exact same spot they were at previously, and after slowly moving the Wildcat into freestanding position, I made the shot and took my first kill of the day. It tumbled over the wall into the wood, so I unloaded the gun and placed the magazine in my pocket, checked the area for anyone walking, and left the gun under my decoy bag while I retrieved the skinny.

According to plan

I could see a few pigeons dropping in near Steve, but wasn’t sure if he’d managed a shot. Not long after, a text came, asking how I was getting on, so with only two pigeons for Steve, and my single skinny, we decided to move to another field. It can be strange how days pan out; there had been plenty of activity on this field over the last few days, but today was a no-show for the woodies. The next field looked better, with cattle grazing in the first half, segregated from us by an electric fence, a hedge-line down one side and a couple of sitty trees on the opposite side. We would set up a single hide for the both of us from all our gear, and from the field it again looked perfect. With the wind in our faces the pigeons should come straight down the barrel to us, we could see them coming from fields away, and if they veered off to the sitty trees, we could still monitor their movements.

Different plan

This time, I opted for a more uniform pattern for the decoys and I had no sooner returned to the hide than Steve dropped another woodie that had come straight to the centre of the pattern – it was my turn to feel some relief from the pressure of supplying the decoys. The plan was for me to take the longer shots with the FAC Wildcat, and for my host to take the closer shots with his trusty HW100 FSB carbine with the Huggett Belita mod.

This is where I should tell you everything went to plan and we bagged up; well, we did, and the plan worked brilliantly. Fuelled by our enthusiasm, we stayed on until later than planned, taking some great shots between us.

With a single feral lying upside down an incoming woodie skirted off at the last minute and landed a couple of trees down from us. Once we had spotted it and decided it was a shot for the Wildcat, I had to position myself and the gun to weave a path for the 18gr Air Arms Diabolo. A gentle breeze had the leaves moving slightly, but I got myself into the rhythm of the moving foliage, corrected my breathing and a plump woodie dropped like a stone with a cracking headshot – even if I do say so myself.

Convincing deeks

I turned my attention back to the pattern and had to adjust my eyes and blink a couple of times because a sparrowhawk was tearing into one of the Enforcer decoys – testament to the lifelike look they have. We shooed it off, reset the pattern and agreed to stay for another 30 minutes, both taking birds from our designated areas. Once again, Steve got all excited when I took a brace of woodies shotgun style – left and right, without even taking my eye from the Hawke Airmax, and indexing the mag whilst moving the gun round. I was quite chuffed with that one.

Shockingly good day

We ended up with 30 woodies, 3 ferals and a skinny, and although not the biggest bag of late, it was definitely the most enjoyable by far. I do prefer my own company and to be at one with myself, but once in a while you meet someone who has the same enthusiasm as yourself, and everything gels into place. All the takings went to the bird of prey centre – they must have the best fed birds in the area!

To top off the day, I managed to give myself a couple of shocks from the electric cattle fence and added to the deep cut I gave myself from a barbed wire fence earlier in the month, but I was still on cloud nine. Thanks, Stevie mate. I really enjoyed your company and our banter. I’m already looking forward to the next one.


Read more from Mick Garvey...

Shooting squirrels in the summer

A great day hunting pigeons and squirrels

Re-reaping the rewards